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War's Shadow

Baščaršija - Copyright © by Alan Grant

The war was ended with the Dayton Accords of November 1995. Much of the Serb-held part of the city was handed over to the Bosniak [Muslim] - Croat Federation which had been founded the year before. Serb radicals forced many of their own people out of these areas before the handover took place.

The contrast with the recovery after the Second World War could not have been greater. The triumphant Partisans had given Sarajevans a clear if idealized vision of a new society and a transformed city to be constructed in the aftermath of the war and liberation. In 1996, however, there was no sense of victory, no inspiring vision to compel popular engagement in remaking the city. War was over, but the struggle was not resolved. With international blessing, the Dayton Agreement institutionalised many of the national divisions that had dominated since 1990. Most Sarajevans were immensely relieved that the war had ended, but a widespread sense of uncertainty about the future fed pervasive lassitude and despair, despite the gradual return of intense activity to the central city.


The city's common life did not die during the war, nor has it perished in the difficult postwar era. However, Sarajevans face many difficult choices in the postsocialist and postwar era, and the future of the city's common life is among them. Some thriving new organizations, such as the Bosniak Institute, are untainted by association with communism but owe much to Bosniak national values. However, many of the city's most venerated institutions and practices have their origins in the dynamic first two decades of the socialist era and were in part designed to overcome national divisiveness. Sarajevans have almost unanimously rejected communism as an ideology, yet they hold fond memories of life before the war, a time when communists ruled the city. Most of them reject national exclusivity in principle, yet they have repeatedly opted to put nationalist political leaders in office. With the city still living in the long shadow of ruinous war and its citizens holding contradictory social values, Sarajevans have yet to discover or invent a full spectrum of cultural, political, and educational institutions that are free from both communist and nationalist authoritarianism. As they endeavor to do so, the future of the city's common life hangs in the balance.


Sarajevo: A Biography. 2005. Robert Donia [C. Hurst & Co]

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